Speaking in Tongues

We must now move into chapter 13 where the Holy Spirit takes up the subject of tongues in the context of love and permanency.

The conclusions that we will arrive at are fatal to the whole emphasis on tongues, then and now.

Let me correct an error here. This chapter is not a disconnected essay on love in the abstract as most people imagine. This chapter shows the relation of love to the use of all the sign gifts.

Love is the “most excellent way” of 12:31 and it is given as a yardstick by which we can check all we do for God and with His gifts.

Verses 1 and 2 show that even the highest gifts used with fanatical devotion are worse than useless if not used under the energy and guidance of love. This is the love that never seeks its own interest but wishes and works for the best for others. This cuts at the roots of an ostentatious use of tongues which is claimed to make me feel wonderful, but which communicates nothing to others and certainly does not build up.

Speaking in Tongues in Private

I cannot find any reference in the Scriptures to allow anyone to practice speaking in tongues in private. If the gifts of God are to be used for the upbuilding of others, and tongues were a sign to unbelievers, what is the point of speaking in tongues in private?

The tongue in our mouth is for communication, through the language we speak we communicate.

What communicating is a person doing, shut up in a room by himself and not knowing what he is saying?

Tongues were given for a sign to unbelievers, to communicate the Gospel and the truth of God, to upbuild the Church of God.

To me, speaking in tongues in private is the ultimate in self-centered and unproductive futility. This is exactly what the Corinthians were guilty of.

The love in 1 Corinthians 13 is never occupied with itself. It expresses itself by giving to others. The listed qualities of this love show us that this love does not seek its own (v. 5), never behaves itself in an unbecoming way, is never puffed up by its own attainments, and would never stoop to the vulgarity of exalting itself or showing off.

Temporary Gifts

Verses 8-13 show us that the miraculous sign or gift on which they put so much emphasis were not even permanent in the plan of God.

When this purpose was served, they would pass away.

Verse 8 says, “Prophecies shall be done away.” “Tongues shall cease.” “Knowledge shall vanish away.”

This will happen when “that which is perfect is come.” V. 10.

We believe this to be the Scriptures. Before the completion of the Scriptures, prophets were necessary to give oral messages from God. With the completion of the Scriptures there was no need for the prophet.

With the coming of the Scriptures there was no use for tongues, the Scriptures were translated into those languages.

v. 11—When I was a child, I spoke as a child, etc. Paul is saying here, “When I was a spiritual baby I spoke in tongues, but when I developed into a mature man I left that infantile level of communication behind me for the permanent state of manhood.”

Rules for the Use of Tongues

God has laid down certain rules for the use of tongues. These rules were evidently broken at Corinth.

1. Tongues must always be used for edifying or upbuilding the church—14:3-5, 26.

2. Women are to be silent in the church meetings—14:34.

3. There must always be an interpreter for the benefit of those present not understanding the tongue, or such tongues were forbidden—14:28.

4. Even with an interpreter they were to speak one by one in turn, never more than three and preferably only two on any given occasion. Ruling out any confusion of which God is not the author—14:27.

5. The tongue used must always communicate a message. There was never to be any incoherent gibberish—14:23.

6. The tongues spoken were to be a sign to unbelievers—14:22.

This concludes what the Scripture has to say about Tongues.